Space travel, to me, does not seem like the most humorous subject. To Mark Watney, however, hilarity ensues the second he is left for dead on the surface of Mars.
“The Martian” begins on Sol 6, approximately one week into a Mars mission that was interrupted by a storm that shook up the astronauts’ equipment, ended any hope of continuing their experiments, and required their quick departure from the planet. Because Watney had disappeared from view into the storm and his vital signs indicated he was dead, his crew figured he was a goner, took the exit vehicle, and left.
Well, he wasn’t dead and “The Martian” chronicles the new mission he lays out for himself: staying alive and somehow finding a way back to earth. The book begins with quite a few smart-ass remarks about survival skills and the five crew members that had safely evacuated the planet and were on their way home. As Watney checks on the status of his equipment and supplies, he performs some quick calculations and decides he should focus on agriculture — his first job is to become the first farmer on Mars.
With quick wit and astronomically scientific jargon, Andy Weir spins a highly entertaining survival story in “The Martian.” It’s laid out in log-book style as Watney recounts his daily activities, including the successes and failures of various mini-experiments. He also features calculations of all kinds, such as how long it will take for him to run out of food and how far he is from the landing site of the next scheduled mission to Mars.
At times I laughed right out loud reading Watney’s musings. There were points of desperation, where things are so bleak I wondered how he maintained his sanity. Actually that’s probably where the snarky comments came from. This gem is about how he is able to heat the Rover for travel while still having power to operate the vehicle: “I wonder what NASA would think about me fucking with the RTG like this. They’d probably hide under their desks and cuddle with their slide rules for comfort.”
After NASA realizes their astronaut is in fact alive, things get more interesting. Watney had kept himself functioning for months, and suddenly he is back under the thumb of an organization that monitors, literally, his every move and calculation. The various time tables in motion to plan his recovery are astonishing, and the world watches with bated breath, waiting to see if he will be brought back as a hero, or left to starve on the red planet.
I found “The Martian” to be highly entertaining and written in an approachable format. The science stuff can be overwhelming… I kept referring back to a list of frequently used acronyms at the beginning of the book. The characters were VERY real — various NASA officials concerned for a variety of reasons, Watney’s crew members, etc. Watney himself, with his cheekiness, ingenuity that reminds me of McGyver, and reflections on being the only person on a planet is obviously the show stealer, and he’s worth it.
“…I’m about 100 km from Pathfinder. Technically it’s ‘Carl Sagan Memorial Station.’ But with all due respect to Carl, I can call it whatever the hell I want. I’m the King of Mars.”